Advice to survive Financially while waiting for a disability approval

The majority of applicants for Social Security Disability benefits and SSI disability benefits experience extreme financial duress while waiting to receive a decision on a disability claim.

Why do claimants experience such duress? Because the disability process is very long. Typically, an initial claim, or application, will take 3-4 months on average (though it can easily take longer).

However, that's not where the real wait comes in. Seventy percent of all disability claims filed with the social security administration are denied. Of those claimants who are denied, some choose to file a brand new disability application, meaning that they will likely have to wait several more weeks or months to receive another decision (filing a new application is generally not a wise choice).

For those who choose to appeal a disability denial, this will usually mean filing a request for reconsideration, which will take several months, and then requesting a disability hearing, since most reconsiderations are also denied. The hearing request, of course, will take many months, and sometimes as long as one to two years.

Given the time considerations of applying for SSD or SSI benefits, it's fairly obvious that surviving the process is a legitimate concern. In working with claimants over several years, I was regularly aware of situations in which claimants were in danger of being evicted from their homes, having homes foreclosed on, did not have access to proper medical care and needed medications, and could not afford to pay for utilities or food.

If you are filing for disability and are experiencing any of these difficulties you may wish to consider the following:

1. Check with your local social services department for utility assistance. The LIEAP program (low income energy assistance program) may be able to provide help with your heating bill in the winter. Also, some social services departments will also offer one-time assistance on a utility bill at times other than winter.

2. If you need medications and do not have health coverage, check with an adult services caseworker at social services to see if any church or charitable organizations are offering limited assistance with paying for prescriptions. In addition to being a former disability examiner, I was also a caseworker and my DSS (department of social services) did have organizations to refer people to if they were in need of prescription assistance. Also, at the time I was working as a medicaid caseworker, an individual could file for medicaid (based on disability) and even if the medicaid application was later denied, the individual could still receive medication assistance while their medicaid claim was being processed. This may not be the case with every county DSS, but it is certainly worth checking into.

3. File for any benefits for which you potentially might be eligible. And do this with the understanding that you need to utilize every possible resource to maximize your chances of getting through the disability process. This, of course, includes filing for food stamps (I was also a food stamp caseworker). Also, you may wish to file for either public housing assistance or section 8 housing assistance. Typically, the wait for housing assistance is very long, so it will definitely be in your best interests to do this sooner versus later.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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